A “Dear Reza” note from a Bangladeshi woman

The three Muslim countries touted by Reza Aslan as “progressive” are Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. Over the past couple weeks I’ve written about the oppression that Islam has exerted in Indonesia and Malaysia (granted, sharia law isn’t enforced everywhere). That leaves Bangladesh. And that’s where Zerin Firoze comes in: a woman from Bangladesh who gave up her faith at a young age, finally fully embracing atheism. One of the reasons for her apostasy was that she and her women friends were being forced to leave school early and get married—one of the byproducts of Islam. (You can read her story here and here and here). And as an apostate in Bangladesh, she faced rape threats and death threats, though she kept a lower profile than the group of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh who were hacked to death with machetes. Nevertheless, she posted anti-Islamic stuff on social media, and her viability became tenuous.

Zerin managed to get into college in the U.S., and is here on a five-year visa while applying for asylum. She certainly deserves that protection, as her life wouldn’t be worth a plugged nickel back in Bangladesh. Even if she weren’t killed, she wouldn’t have the freedom to achieve her dream: to become a doctor.

In the meantime, here’s her love letter to the apologist Reza Aslan, who never had to live as a secular woman in Bangladesh. The picture below, with her words, been disseminated by the Atheist Alliance of America.

This 20-minute VICE News documentary on gang rape in Bangladesh, which I watched a long time ago, first awakened me to the idea that sexual assault on women in that land was promoted by Islam. VICE sent Tania Rashid, a female Bengali-speaking Bangladeshi/American reporter to the country to investigate reports of rape and how they are handled. You’ll be horrified to see all the roadblocks that face an assaulted woman; see, for example, Rashid’s interview with an imam at 9:15. “If women only stayed indoors where they belong, then they wouldn’t force men to rape them.” Over and over again he implies that, according to Islam, rape is the woman’s fault. Even the police commander confronted at the end parrots that view, and says “we follow Islamic law here.”

I recommend watching the whole video.

I suppose Aslan would claim that all this nothing to do with religion, but is simply culture—presumably rape culture.



  1. GBJames
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink


  2. Posted September 18, 2017 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    We can do more of these:

    Dear Reza,
    To claim that Islam is not structurally oppressive of women, you must be able to imagine a hypothetical Islam that is oppressive toward women. Pray, tell me what would that form of Islam look like?

    • BJ
      Posted September 18, 2017 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      That’s as brilliant as your photography 🙂

      • Mike
        Posted September 19, 2017 at 7:13 am | Permalink

        I,ll second that.

  3. Posted September 18, 2017 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    I just did ..and it was heartbreaking .. the tragedy is that it is BOTH cultural AND supported by the religion (depending on how you wish to interpret the teachings.. ) – As I have said before – the religion you are born into as well as the culture associated with it, is part of your Welcome” package you get when you are born. In many societies (even our own) disagreement with the contents of the package, can get you ostracised rather rapidly – and few people want that. For some reason we in the West seem to want a “black and white” interpretation – but NO it’s grey. Before the rise of Salafism – and the (justifiable) reaction of the Middle East to colonial governments after their resources – Islam came in many colours – from Sufism on which co-existed. – it’s the rise of fanatical Sunni Islam (Wahabism) and the reactionary response of Shiites (think Western meddling in Iran, let alone Iraq) – and the whole bloody tinderbox goes off. I’m not sure that rape was quite as common then –

    • somer
      Posted September 18, 2017 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

      No. There is less sufism than before but the main part of Islam was always this kind of thing. Also sufis never reject any of the scriptures – they just add a mystical layer and emphasise some things more than others. They are not all softer than the rest of islam either – In Pakistan Barelvi Sufis supported Mumtaz Qadri who was a Barelvi – to kill the minister who had tried to repeal blasphemy laws and some sufis in the past were big jihadists.

      The Hanifi scholar Mohammad Hashim Kamali in his Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence (Islamic Texts Society) emphasises that in Sunni Islam the Sunnah which consists of Hadith of the Prophet, including some by Angel Gabriel and some of Mohammed’s companions and Sirat (hadith accounts of the Prophet’s life) MUST be used to elucidate the Quran and what are regarded as sahih (genuine) hadiths are essentially coequal with the Quran and can even supersede some passages of the Quran. Its a complex religion.

      These sahih hadith have a lot of horrible passages about women. And the sirat is pretty problematic too. Its clear in the scriptures of the most “moderate” Hanifi school of sunni islam (e.g. Hidaya guide to the Islamic laws) that the above mentioned are the attitudes towards women. I have an english language version edited by Z. Baintner that uses the proper Arabic religious terms, not the original 18th translation by a European. For example, it states that sexual crime “riba” means sex with a woman in whom a man has no claim of property, or holds erroneous property. A man has sexual property in his wife but not vise versa. the onus is on the woman to keep from having sex with anyone other than her husband. It also states that the institution of marriage means a wife is to be a servant to her husband and the husband the person served. Also once the marriage is contracted with the guardian and the husband pays something (the guardian normally also pays him something) The husband may have sex with his wife “by force, if he please”.

      Likewise misogyny in the next most “moderate” guide to Islam “The Reliance of the Traveller”

    • bundorgarden
      Posted September 18, 2017 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      Hugh Spencer:

      You say that you are not sure that rape was quite as common then.

      What makes you say this?

      What you mean is you would like to think that rape was not quite as common then because it seems a nice idea and fits your ideological narrative.

      In fact I am sure you have no idea of the reality.

  4. mfdempsey1946
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    This video is shattering.

    Based on what it reveals, the entire culture of Bangladesh (and probably not Bangladesh alone), appears to be plunged into depravity.

    Anyone who tries to rationalize or minimize in any way, shape, or form what the video shows is equally depraved.

    The continued existence of this brand of evil can make one despair for the ultimate fate of humanity, since it so often appears now that, despite the noble efforts of so many, that evil is inexorably winning.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted September 19, 2017 at 3:59 am | Permalink

      My only cautionary note is that such distressing behaviour also happens in India, which is mostly Hindu.

      I rather wonder if such behaviour is driven by the social values around ‘family honour’ requiring that women are ‘pure’ to maintain their family honour.

      In which case Islam (and some other religions) is not the ’cause’ but an adjuvant. A particularly effective one.

      • Posted September 19, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        “My only cautionary note is that such distressing behaviour also happens in India, which is mostly Hindu.”
        Yes, but we’ve seen some fight back in India. Yet to see anything similar in Bangladesh.

  5. Cate Plys
    Posted September 18, 2017 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    The problem is Reza Asian won’t answer such open letters. I hope they have a great big ad budget and splash this around.

  6. Posted September 18, 2017 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    So much for religion being a moral compass…
    The women of Bangladesh are expected to hold up the morality of males, with rules made by males, for males… so far so good for males.
    For what? so they can depart to the misogynic kingdom of the their faith after death to carry on with this perverse charade of dominant behaviours over the female gender, who without they would have not been conscious of their all male empowering god in the first place.
    Sometimes you just can’t win a trick… Reza Asian are you there!? the truth would help.
    Not all males of course but Reza Asian needs to take a hard cold look and stop with the warm and fuzzes.

  7. Posted September 19, 2017 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Meantime “feminists” in the west agonise over the use of gender pronouns and female representation in Hollywood, but utter not a peep about such horrific oppression of women as seen in Bangladesh.
    As the horrid Laurie Penny (Red) said in recent Oz Q&A, ” we shouldn’t interfere “

  8. Posted September 19, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Bangladesh is also by some measures the poorest country in Asia and is now taking refugees from Myanamar/Burma.

    Doesn’t excuse the behaviours, of course. (I do consider it relevant because like anything, there are multiple causes at play and it is important to figure out economic and demographic ones as well.)

%d bloggers like this: